It’s wild. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was four-years-old,” said The Roeper School educator Patrick Harris.
“I had teachers who would tell me they loved me, which matters. I had a Black male teacher, and that matters to me. He taught me the love of writing. I had a music teacher who taught me pride. I really fell in love with the art of teaching through my actual teachers,” recalls Harris, who attended Detroit and Southfield Public Schools before attending Michigan State University.
The 27-year-old first-generation college graduate has been a teacher for six years, and has worked at as many schools, beginning his career in Washington, DC, with a stint in Qatar before making his way back to Michigan. “I have taught in public schools that received Title I funds, in Doha, Qatar in an international school, in traditional charter schools, and now I’m teaching at Roeper, which is a gifted independent school.”
Harris was recently named a 2021 “30 Under 30” by the International Literacy Association, which honors “the rising innovators, disruptors, and visionaries in the literacy field” throughout the world.
While this honor would be notable at any time, it is particularly remarkable during a global pandemic that has put a tremendous amount of strain on teachers.
“It has forced all systems to say, we can reimagine the way we are educating children,” a role Harris was seemingly meant to play. Harris is in the process of helping to transition Roeper’s traditional middle school English department into a Humanities department, which he describes as taking a more holistic educational approach.
“I am very, very unapologetically an antiracist teacher,” Harris stresses, and he imbues his lessons with these teachings. “Right now, they [his students] are studying what it means for race to be a social construction,” and they have also learned about implicit bias and the origins and evolution of the police system in the U.S. Harris said that it is also important for his mostly White students to see a Black, queer male in a leadership role.
In addition to his work in the classroom, Harris, with a few dozen teachers across the country, is organizing an action research group to develop an alternative to traditional standardized tests. He is also the founder of Good Trouble Media, a platform designed for teachers to share their own stories. It started as a single podcast where Harris and a kindergarten teacher in Texas documented their entire school year week by week. The Common Sense podcast has been downloaded over 100,000 times, and was featured by Apple in their 2019 Black History Month spotlight. Harris is currently in the process of launching another series, 'And We’re Still Here,' which he describes as “perseverance stories from different stakeholders in education.”
As an advocate for teachers, Harris’ work has only just begun. “I’ve always wanted to pay tribute and be just like the teachers that I had growing up, who were career teachers, fighters. They were leaders, singers, politicians who had multiple impacts. As I think about ‘what is my true impact,’ I still want to be just like them.”
Story: Hillary Brody Anchill
Photo: Chris Ward